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Charalambopoulos v. Grammer

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

January 23, 2018

DIMITRI CHARALAMBOPOULOS, Plaintiff-counterdefendant,
v.
CAMILLE GRAMMER, Defendant-counterplaintiff.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SIDNEY A. FITZWATER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant-counter plaintiff Camille Grammer (“Grammer”) moves to stay this lawsuit pending the payment by plaintiff-counter defendant Dimitri Charalambopoulos (“Charalambopoulos”) or his counsel of the court's attorney's fee award under the Texas Citizens Participation Act (“TCPA”), Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 27.001 et seq. (West 2015), an anti-SLAPP[1] statute. For the reasons that follow, the court grants the motion to the extent set out in this memorandum opinion and order, [2] vacates the trial setting, and administratively closes this case for statistical purposes during the pendency of the stay.

         I

         In March 2016 the court awarded Grammer $118, 999.61 in attorney's fees and $2, 308.05 in expenses (“Award”) incurred in moving to dismiss Charalambopoulos' suit under the TCPA. In November 2016 Charalambopoulos filed a notice, supported by an affidavit, stating that he lacks the funds to satisfy the Award. Grammer now moves the court to condition Charalambopoulos' continued pursuit of his remaining claims against her on his or his counsel's payment of the Award, or, alternatively, upon the posting of a bond in the full amount of the Award.

         II

         A district court has discretion to stay proceedings on its docket. See Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936). “[T]he power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants.” Id. The party seeking a stay “must make out a clear case of hardship or inequity in being required to go forward, if there is even a fair possibility that the stay for which he prays will work damage to some one else.” Id. at 255. “The determination of whether to stay proceedings is best determined by weighing the competing interests of the parties and of the Court.” Miramore Tr. v. United Van Lines, LLC, 2017 WL 661374, at *4 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 17, 2017) (Fitzwater, J.) (quoting Busk v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., 2013 WL 4786254, at *2 (D. Nev. Sept. 5, 2013)).

         III

         A

         Grammer moves the court to stay this case as to Charalambopoulos' remaining claims until Charalambopoulos or his counsel pays the Award in full or posts a bond in the full amount of the Award. She contends, inter alia, that Charalambopoulos' opportunity to pursue his claims against her is an asset that belongs to Charalambopoulos; as long as this dispute has not yet been litigated to a conclusion, the potential denial of Charalambopoulos' opportunity to pursue the litigation creates an incentive for him to satisfy the Award by whatever means necessary; once the litigation concludes and the right to further pursue the litigation has passed, Charalambopoulos' incentive to satisfy the Award will disappear; unless the court imposes some consequence for Charalambopoulos' failure to satisfy the Award, he has no incentive to satisfy it; there is no undue harm in requiring Charalambopoulos and his counsel to secure satisfaction of the Award, either via present payment or an appropriately conditioned bond in the full amount of the Award; and absent a stay, there will be a very real risk that the Award will go forever unsatisfied.

         Charalambopoulos responds that Grammer has offered no evidence to contradict his sworn testimony that he cannot pay the Award; the relief Grammer requests is a sanction that penalizes him for his inability to pay, but that Grammer never sought, and the court never imposed, sanctions against Charalambopoulos or his attorneys under the TCPA; nothing in the Fee Agreement between Charalambopoulos and his counsel obligates Charalambopoulos' counsel to satisfy the Award; and a stay under these circumstances would deprive Charalambopoulos of his right to due process, and his inability to pay should not be used to deprive him of his day in court.

         B

         The TCPA seeks “to encourage and safeguard the constitutional rights of persons to petition, speak freely, associate freely, and otherwise participate in government to the maximum extent permitted by law and, at the same time, protect the rights of a person to file meritorious lawsuits for demonstrable injury.” Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 27.002. “To promote these purposes, [the TCPA] creates an avenue at the early stage of litigation for dismissing unmeritorious suits that are based on the defendant's exercise of the rights of free speech, petition, or association as those rights are defined within the [statute].” In re Lipsky, 411 S.W.3d 530, 539 (Tex. App. 2013, orig. proceeding). As a corollary to early dismissal of unmeritorious claims, the TCPA also mandates an award of costs, reasonable attorney's fees, and other expenses when the court grants a motion to dismiss under the TCPA. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 27.009(a)(1) (“the court shall award to the moving party: (1) court costs, reasonable attorney's fees, and other expenses incurred in defending against the legal action as justice and equity may require.” (emphasis added)); see also Sullivan v. Abraham, 488 S.W.3d 294, 299 (Tex. 2016) (“Based on the statute's language and punctuation, we conclude that the TCPA requires an award of ‘reasonable attorney's fees' to the successful movant.” (emphasis added)).

         The court has already dismissed several of Charalambopoulos' claims, holding that they are meritless attempts to suppress Grammer's First Amendment rights. See, e.g., Charalambopoulos v. Grammer, 2015 WL 2451182 (N.D. Tex. May 22, 2015) (Fitzwater, J.); Charalambopoulos v. Grammer, 2015 WL 390664 (N.D. Tex. Jan. 29, 2015) (Fitzwater, J.). It has also awarded Grammer attorney's fees and costs under the TCPA. See Charalambopoulos v. Grammer, 2016 WL 915739 (N.D. Tex. Mar. 10, 2016) (Fitzwater, J.). Charalambopoulos maintains that he cannot afford to pay the TCPA-mandated Award, and he urges ...


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